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COMMUNITY BRIEFS: HUC-JIR, Idol Star, UCSB Investigating Emails, Conference Explores Healing

May 6, 2009 | 5:34 pm

Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert

HUC-JIR Sets Deadline to Determine L.A. Campus Future
The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) board of governors has set June 23 as the date when the fate of its campuses in Cincinnati and Los Angeles will be decided.

Last month, Rabbi David Ellenson, the university’s president, said that financial constraints could lead to the closure of both campuses. This resulted in an outpouring of support for the satellite campuses and a bit of discussion about the possibility that the University of Southern California, which shares some faculty and facilities with HUC-JIR, would step up and absorb the L.A. campus as part of a Jewish studies department.

At a meeting Monday, HUC-JIR’s board of governors decided that a restructuring plan for the university should proceed on three principles: “Financial sustainability; academic integrity of programs and excellence of faculty and students; service to the Reform movement, Klal Yisrael, Israel and world Jewry.”

The board directed the administration to “devise a plan that will attain financial sustainability and enhance our academic excellence while preserving our presence in Cincinnati, Los Angeles and New York,” according to a statement from Ellenson and board chair Barbara Friedman.

Campus deans and faculty advisers will be involved in the development of that plan, which will include significant financial restructuring and be voted on next month. It’s unclear whether “presence” could entail a fully functioning campus or an integrated institution.

“There could be reductions in programs and staff and might even involve relocations of faculty or campus sites,” Ellenson said in an interview Tuesday. “But the board of governors recognized, from the outpouring of concern and support, how very vital the Hebrew Union College is to the maintenance and growth of liberal Judaism in every corner of this country. I think members of the board of governors were heartened by the very positive response of care and concern that many thousands of people expressed for maintaining the campuses in each of the cities where Hebrew Union College is located.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

 

Temple of the Arts Star on Move to Become ‘Idol’
Before Adam Lambert became the rock star of season eight of “American Idol,” he was already a rising star on the Jewish stage. The actor-singer played the slave Joshua at the Kodak Theatre in the 2004 multi-million-dollar flop “The Ten Commandments.” Even with movie star Val Kilmer in the lead, Los Angeles Times music critic Mark Swed singled Lambert out: “Few singers or dancers distinguish themselves with a personal sound or style. High notes are calculated to get applause. Adam Lambert, as Joshua, does the best in ‘Is Anybody Listening?’ It is also the best song.”

Five years later, Lambert’s success on “Idol” feels deserved, even overdue. And his new stardom has earned him a cult following and celebrity friends: He has been spotted gallivanting around Hollywood with “High School Musical” stars Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Living under a microscope doesn’t seem to bother him, either: When provocative photographs surfaced of Lambert dressed in drag and kissing other men, he proclaimed, “I have nothing to hide. I am who I am.”

But before Lambert’s glamorous turn, through which he has become known both for his angelic voice and trademark eyeliner, he humbly sang with Jewish groups.

In 2007, he sang “The Prayer” in a duet with Cantor Ilysia Pierce during Kol Nidre service at Temple of the Arts. “He was spectacular. People were just blown away by him,” said Rabbi David Baron, spiritual leader of Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre. “He has that star talent; even among stars, he’s a standout. He’s the shoo-in to win this year’s ‘Idol,’ and if you listen to the judges — Randy, Paula and Simon, the toughest critic — they all say the same thing, ‘You’re already a star.’”

Lambert also joined Temple of the Arts to perform at a memorial concert for Yitzhak Rabin, singing Shir LeShalom at American Jewish University.

“The whole congregation is rooting for him, calling and voting; they’re just so excited that he made it. He’s really captured everybody’s imagination,” Baron said.

Nashuva is auctioning six tickets to the “American Idol” finale. For more information, see Calendar on Page 27.

— Danielle Berrin, Staff Writer

 

UCSB Investigating Nazi-Israeli Email to Students
The University of California, Santa Barbara, has launched an academic investigation into a tenured professor who sent an e-mail to students comparing Israelis to Nazis.

The e-mail from William I. Robinson, who is Jewish, was sent to students of his sociology of globalization class on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Its subject was “Parallel Images of Nazis and Israelis.” The e-mail contained 42 images of side-by-side photos from the Holocaust and the Gaza strip during Israel’s war with Hamas, an appended news article critical of Israel and a message from Robinson.

“Gaza is Israel’s Warsaw — a vast concentration camp that confined and blockaded Palestinians, subjecting them to the slow death of malnutrition, disease and despair, nearly two years before their subjection to the quick death of Israeli bombs,” Robinson wrote, in part.

As a result of the e-mail, two students dropped Robinson’s class and contacted the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which filed a complaint. The Anti-Defamation League and StandWithUs also got involved.

“People are genuinely concerned because crucial principles are at stake,” Esther Renzer, international president of StandWithUs, said in explaining why the pro-Israel campus organization was gathering signatures in support of the academic investigation. “This case is a litmus test of whether professors can exploit their positions of authority to impose their political prejudices on students or whether the university truly will remain a place where all points of view can be comfortably and responsibly discussed.”

The controversy bloomed last week when it was picked up by news organizations, including Santa Barbara local television, Haaretz and JewishJournal.com’s The God Blog.

Robinson did not respond to a request for comment. But in an interview with the liberal publication Counterpunch, he tried to distance himself from directly comparing Israelis to Nazis.

“What I did was I forwarded several items from the world media, from the Internet media,” Robinson said. “One item was an article written by a Jewish journalist in a Jewish newspaper here in the United States, and it was criticizing the invasion of Gaza.”

He also has claimed the attacks are aimed to stifle his academic freedom. And, indeed, tenured professors have said far more offensive things about Israel, Jews and the Holocaust. On this front, Robinson found support from a surprising source.

“Neither Robinson’s leftist kind of sociology nor his activist kind of politics are mine. Yet the idea of investigating him is appalling,” Alan Wolfe wrote for The New Republic. “We should be wary of anyone who views the university not as a place for the exchange of ideas, but as an environment for therapeutic self-affirmation. ‘This professor should be stopped immediately from continuing to disseminate this information and be punished because his damage is irreversible,’ one unnamed UCSB student argued. Nonsense. Whatever damage words and pictures can do is outweighed by the arguments and discussion they provoke. This student was angry. That was the point. The idea that Robinson caused some kind of irreversible damage here is preposterous. Seeking to punish him is even worse.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

 

Israeli Consul General, Palestinian Lobbyist Reach Mock Peace Agreement
The peace process between Israelis and Arabs has stalled, but that didn’t stop Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles and a Palestinian American who actively lobbies the U.S. government on a two-state solution from reaching a mock peace agreement at a summit held downtown last week.

Organized by Community Advocates, Inc. and KPCC Southern California Public Radio, whose “Airtalk” host Larry Mantle moderated the negotiations between Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan and Hussein Ibish, senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based American Task Force on Palestine, the event drew about 200 people to the Japanese American National Museum. It was broadcast during “Airtalk” and is available on a podcast.

Dayan and Ibish agreed that there should be no new settlements in the West Bank, that Hamas can’t be included in political negotiations and on where exactly the eventual borders should be drawn. Debate resulted in understanding even on the right of return.

“The point is ultimately that you do as much as you can for the refugees so that everyone can move on without violating the basic precept of the agreement, which is that you have two states, and without asking Israel to do something that sovereign states would not do,” Ibish said.

“I would tell you, Hussein,” Dayan said, “for the Israelis it is sine qua non. This is a Jewish state, and whenever there is a Palestinian statement of ‘We don’t want to live under occupation’ and then saying the Palestinians want to go back and live in a Jewish state and then you’ll say that is under occupation — for the Israelis it means only one thing: that you are undermining the legitimacy of the state of Israel.”

“If this is a deal-breaker,” Isbish said, “I do not think the deal should be broken on these rocks.”

Not surprisingly, though, no agreement could be reached on Jerusalem.

“Four out of five isn’t bad,” said David Lehrer, president of Community Advocates, adding, “It was more than the fairly common dialogue of like-minded folks who want to do good. It involved leaders grounded in the reality of the current situation and all its difficulties.”

— Brad A. Greenberg, Senior Writer

 

Conference Explores Healing Potential of Biblical Texts
Elizabeth Feldman attended her first conference on spirituality and medicine about a decade ago. A family physician and teacher at a family medicine residency program in Chicago, Feldman realized she wanted a way to merge Jewish teachings with her medical practice.

“I hadn’t integrated the Jewish, spiritual, davening part of me with the part that was a health care provider,” she said.

While attending the conference, Feldman met Rabbi William Cutter, who at the time was forming the Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health, a program at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) Los Angeles campus that focuses on exploring healthcare, healing and spirituality in a Jewish context.

Feldman now devotes time to helping her colleagues integrate their professional and spiritual sides as part of the Kalsman Institute’s Physician’s Initiative, and next week she will be among the presenters at the May 11-13 Midrash and Medicine: Imagining Wholeness, a conference sponsored by the Kalsman Institute along with the San Francisco-based Bay Area Jewish Healing Center. The event at the Asilomar Conference Center near Monterey is expected to draw more than 100 participants engaged in some form of healing, including physicians, nurses, therapists, rabbis, cantors, chaplains, artists and educators.

Rabbi Eric Weiss, executive director of the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, says the conference is designed to nourish the spiritual needs of the participants, and, ultimately, of the people they work with.


“Our hope is that all the people they interact with will garner the benefit of these providers taking the time to nourish themselves,” he said.

As the title suggests, the conference will focus on midrash, “the rabbinic process of finding contemporary meaning in biblical text,” according to keynote speaker Rabbi Norman Cohen, a professor of midrash at HUC-JIR in New York.

Midrash “uses the text to respond to the challenges we face either personally or communally as a Jewish community,” he said. “Through a process of reflection we come to a better understanding of who we are, both as individuals and in relationships, and who we can become.”

Cohen will discuss the interaction of Joseph and his brother Judah to explore the notion that people are capable of change. “Midrash cannot overcome disease, but it can ... help us repair relationships with others and gain a sense of what’s important in life,” he said.

The conference broadens the definition of midrash to encompass creative techniques for engaging with text, including visual arts, song and dance. Presenters include composer and singer Debbie Friedman, Moving Torah Workshops founder Andrea Hodos and multimedia artist Elizheva Hurwich.

Rabbi Lewis Barth, a midrash professor and former dean of HUC-JIR Los Angeles, said that including the arts in the definition of midrash can be surprising to some because of Judaism’s strong textual focus. “By opening these other dimensions, it helps people absorb, reconceptualize and integrate the teachings ... of Jewish life and tradition,” he said.

Barth will present midrash dealing with images of God as a creator of peace or wholeness. “Shalom has a wide range of meaning,” he said. “The root — shalem — means wholeness…. The notion that when we wish someone a healthy recovery, the term is refuah shlema, which means a whole recovery, or a healing that is complete. It encompasses both our spiritual and physical wellbeing.”

For Feldman, such concepts have enhanced her approach to medicine.

“I have more of a consciousness of myself as a Jewish physician and a little better understanding of what that means,” she said.

Feldman adds that Jewish texts can inform how she thinks about patient care, being sensitive to the needs of a patient’s family and the integration of medicine and spirituality.

“Now I would think to look at what Jewish texts have to say about ethical decisions, which isn’t something I would have done before,” she said.

For more information about the Midrash and Medicine conference, call (213) 765-2666, e-mail midrashandmedicine@huc.edu or visit http://www.huc.edu/kalsman/Midrash-and-Medicine/.

— Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

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